Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 5, 2007)
One of the big hits that debuted in 2005-06, My Name Is Earl continues its run with 2006-07’s Season Two. I’ll check out the 23 shows in the order broadcast. The plot synopses come straight from the series’ website.
Very Bad Things: “Earl (Jason Lee) was enjoying watching Joy (Jaime Pressly) and Darnell (Eddie Steeples) have one of their arguments when all of sudden, he was reminded of No. 183 on this list, ‘Never took Joy’s side’. He remembered back when they were married that he’d never taken Joy’s side in any argument or fight she got into.”
“Things” almost makes Joy sympathetic when we see the extremes to which Earl went to not take her side. The show also puts us on her side when the bargain store won’t take back her expensive entertainment center. She’s still pretty annoying, though in an amusing way. Sure, the actors tend to overplay their characters, but that fits the show’s style, so it creates more comedy than annoyance. “Things” acts as a pretty good start for Season Two.
Jump For Joy: “Joy was facing a tough sentence for stealing the Bargain Bag delivery truck. It turns out that this was her third strike with the law, so her bail was set at one million dollars. Earl felt helpless because he didn’t have that kind of cash. But, he thought of the richest man in Camden County, Richard Chubby (Burt Reynolds).”
It’s cool to see Reynolds, and he makes the most of his crazy character even if his excessive plastic surgery distracts. We do get to see the sexy, sexy Nadine Velazquez in a moderate state of undress, and that’s always a great thing. Did I mention she’s really, really sexy? The show gets in some good laughs too, but the Catalina scenes are enough for me.
Sticks and Stones: “Earl was helping Catalina wax a co-worker’s mustache and it took him back to number 92 on his list, ‘Made Fun of Maggie Lester’. Earl remembered when he was in junior high school and he made fun of the new girl for having a mustache. He called her Maggie P.I. in front of everybody in his class.”
I hate to admit it, but there’s little in the world that gives me the heebie-jeebies as much as a woman with facial hair. Though it’s a bit less creepy when you know it’s fake, it remains disturbing, so that means “Stones” becomes more off-putting than I’d like. The parts of the show with the carnival people aren’t especially enjoyable, but at least Joy’s run-in with her court-appointed hearing-impaired lawyer is amusing, particularly when Joy tries to play nice.
Larceny of a Kitty Cat: “Randy and Earl were walking through a parking lot and a black cat crossed their path. This made Earl remember the time he kidnapped a cat from a cat show so Joy’s cat could win the competition. Now, Earl felt he had to track down Sebastian, the cat he kidnapped and give it back to his rightful owner (Amy Sedaris).”
Another good guest star adds luster to “Larceny”. Sedaris brings her usual goofy charm to the crazy cat lady and creates most of the episode’s laughs. Randy’s attempts to deal with his cat allergies can be a little predictable, but it’s fun to see flashbacks to the character’s other attempts to modify himself to appeal to women. After the less than stellar “Stones”, “Larceny” gives us a good rebound program.
Van Hickey: “Earl was at an elderly recreational center to take pictures of Joy doing good deeds and volunteering her time. Earl heard his name being called out and it was Tom Sparks. Number 50 on Earl’s list: ‘Fired lead singer from his band.’”
Since he appeared in the wonderful That Thing You Do!, I try not to hate Giovanni Ribisi, but oh, how hard he makes it to stand him! Everybody here plays their characters in a broad manner, but Ribisi takes his mannered performance to a much more irritating level. His presence mars an otherwise pretty good episode, though at least it throws in some hot girls in their underwear.
Made a Lady Think I Was God: “Joy had to drive to Henderson to apologize to her old trailer park manager, Millie Banks (Roseanne Barr), so she would drop the restraining order she had against Joy. Joy’s attorney thought it would look good in court. Earl remembered the horrible thing he did to Millie while he was married to Joy.”
Although I can’t say I ever much liked Roseanne, she offers a nice guest turn here. She plays a crotchety old lady well and adds some real pizzazz to a potentially dopey episode. I don’t see this as a great program, but it’s amusing.
Mailbox: “In order for her to feel better about herself, Earl enlisted the help of Catalina for his next item on the list, number 75: Used the mailbox as a trashcan. Earl recalled when he and Randy were too lazy in the trailer park, to throw garbage in the dumpster across the park, so they used the thing closest to them, the mailbox.”
“Mailbox” presents one of the more complicated narratives to date. Some of the threads can veer toward absurdity, but the show manages them pretty well. All of the elements coalesce nicely to turn this into a funny show.
Robbed a Stoner Blind: “Years earlier, Randy and Earl met Woody (Christian Slater) when they broke into his apartment to use his air-conditioning. When Randy and Earl realized that Woody was a complete stoner, they decided to rob him blind without him even knowing. Nowadays, Woody is number 26 on Earl’s list, ‘Robbed a Stoner Blind’”.
Another fun guest performance adds life to “Blind”. I wouldn’t think of Slater as someone to play a stoner, but he brings a weird edge to the character that amuses. The show also makes good fun of the eco-culture and works well.
Born a Gamblin’ Man: “Randy had finally built enough confidence to tell Catalina how he felt about her. He decided to do it by writing her a love poem. Randy wanted to make the moment special and decided to decorate the room with things Catalina liked.”
That synopsis neglects the best parts of the episode: Earl’s attempts to make Kenny (Greg Binkley) less gay, Earl’s rampant gambling, and Joy’s lessons in anger management. Randy’s side isn’t all that interesting – or maybe the concept of a goddess like Catalina with a porker like Randy disturbs me too much. I also like the bizarre gambling ring being run in Camden. Even with the Randy elements, this is a high-quality episode.
South of the Border Part Uno: “Catalina got deported back to Mexico when it was revealed that she was an illegal immigrant in the United States. Earl blamed his gambling as the reason she was caught. He and Randy are preparing to take their first plane ride to Mexico to rescue Catalina!”
When I review two-part episodes, I usually prefer to save my comments until the conclusion. That trend will occur here, so look for my notes below!
South of the Border Part Dos: “Randy took the bus to Catalina’s village. He took a sandwich and some flowers that he had found on a table. A woman embraced Randy, thinking that Randy carried her deceased son’s soul. After talking to the woman, she said she would take Randy to Catalina, so long as they got one night with the man who carried their dead son’s soul. Randy agreed.”
I gotta admit that Pressly continues to surprise me as a comedic actress. She’s arguably the best part of the series, as she’s a consistent hoot – especially now that she has to play “Nice Joy”. Mexican Earl and Randy are also amusing, and the real brothers’ pathetic attempts to travel create lots of comedy. Randy even grows a pair as he forces Earl to concentrate on his mission to save Catalina. Earl pulls out all the stops for this two-part show, and it turns into one of the season’s best.
Our Cops Is On: “Everybody was gathered around the television at the Crab Shack to check out an old episode of the show, Cops. It was the episode when they came to Camden County and featured Joy, Randy, and Earl fighting in a trailer park.”
Seeing Earl and company on Cops isn’t the most creative concept, but it’s funny. Of course, Reno 911! mines similar territory, but it’s cool to see the Earl crew in that venue. Granted, some of it doesn’t fit the series’ continuity and it fails to further various subplots, but it’s goofy enough to be fun.
Buried Treasure: “Earl returned to Joy’s trailer park to complete number 52 on his list, ‘Dig up and return buried treasure’. Earl recalled how he first came across treasure in the first place and it all began when he was married to Joy and was into stealing stuff for money. Earl, Joy, and Randy ended up at the library looking for valuables.”
One absurd aspect of the series comes from the amount of criminal activities Earl pursued in his pre-karma past. When did he sleep? Of course, since Earl never pretends to be realistic, I won’t gripe about this trend, especially since it results in good comedy. This episode takes on a detour and lets us seem what it’d be like if the show was My Name Is Randy, My Name Is Joy and/or My Name Is Crabman, as it veers down those paths for a while. After “Cops”, it’s not a great idea to feature such a flashback heavy episode, but this one proves creative enough to entertain.
Kept a Guy Locked in a Truck: “In voiceover, Earl complains that he keeps getting ‘trapped’. After getting locked in the bathroom he heads to the Crab Shack where he has to endure Slow Roger (Robert Clendenin) drone on about his favorite movies. Locked in his car afterwards, he realizes that karma is trying to tell him something. Months before, he’d assisted Joy in an accidental kidnapping where the pair had locked a man, Josh (Josh Brooks), inside Joy’s truck.”
Sometimes the series’ “name” guest actors don’t live up to the hype, and that happens here with John Waters as a funeral director. Waters may be a lively personality, but he’s not much of an actor, and he turns a cool role into something less than it could have been. “Truck” is a less than successful episode for other reasons, as it’s too morbid and sad at its heart. Poor Josh is such a pathetic character that it’s hard to find hilarity at his state of affairs.
Foreign Exchange Student: “Earl and Randy spit on envelopes as they prepare a letter they’re sending to France. The letter is actually #44 on Earl’s karma list: Picked on a foreign exchange student. We flashback to Earl’s school days when Pierre is introduced to his classmates. ‘Commie!’ cries Earl as he throws an apple at his head. The French student retaliates by making fun of Earl and his wrong answers.”
Though Noah Crawford, the kid who plays young Earl, looks more like Jon Heder than Jason Lee, he’s a great match in terms of personality. He makes the kid such an unpleasant personality that he fits out notion of young Earl well and adds zest to his occasional appearances.
As for the rest of the episode, it’s not exactly original to mock the foofiness of the French; indeed, Pierre (Ernie Grunwald) feels an awful lot like Jean from Talladega Nights. But as a red-blooded American, I’m bound to find amusement in French-baiting, and the show throws out enough pokes at American stereotypes to make it wacky fun. It also moves along the Randy/Catalina story – it’s about time! – and does so with a surprising twist.
B.L.O.W.: “Joy approaches Randy and Earl in the bar. She tells them about a meeting with her deaf lawyer (Marlee Matlin). Her lawyer has just dropped a bombshell: It seems Joy has a half-sister, the result of her father’s multiple ‘multi-racial’ extra-marital affairs. Shocked, Joy tells Earl her half-sister is Liberty Washington (Tamala Jones), a sworn enemy since kindergarten.”
Even for Earl, “BLOW” becomes awfully absurd. While it musters a mix of laughs, the entire concept of Joy being the surrogate for Liberty’s baby seems too silly – and also a really contrived way to get Joy pregnant to cover for Pressly’s real-life pregnancy. It is funny to see how the half-sisters both married similar guys, and the wrestling sequences are good, but it’s hard to get past the idiotic premise.
The Birthday Party: “It’s Earl’s birthday and time for Earl to celebrate and reflect on his life. Randy throws him a party and gives him a half-priced cake. He reminds Earl about a previous time when he tortured Randy with Jackass style stunts. Earl’s mother reminds her son how he once used her living room as a toilet. Earl reminds everyone it’s time to focus on ‘good’ Earl.”
Earl can rely too much on flashbacks, and that occurs here. I do like some of them – such as when pregnant Joy worries that she’s not hot enough for a peeping tom – but I wish the show would stay in the present more of the time. Although the flashbacks make a point, they still drag down the episode more than I’d like.
Guess Who’s Coming Out of Joy: “Earl watches a heavily pregnant Joy sitting at the bar talking to Darnell. The image of his ex-girlfriend sparks a memory about an old lamp he has yet to finish. Earl recounts Joy’s first pregnancy – from another man – and the difficulties involved with the ‘stress of parenthood’. Due to the baby’s constant crying, Earl gives Joy some ‘space’”.
As with the prior show, “Guess” also relies way too heavily on flashbacks for my liking, as virtually the whole episode goes a few years back for its events. I wouldn’t mind that so much if “Guess” provided more laughs, but instead it falls a bit flat. It’s a pretty mediocre program.
Harassed a Reporter: “During another sleepless night alongside Randy, Earl watches TV news reporter Nicole Moses (Leigh-Allyn Baker), who’s been relegated to the Up Before Dawn show. Years before, Randy and Earl clowned around behind Nicole as she covered a meth lab explosion. The brothers gained notoriety with this ‘crazy arms’ dance and embarked on a quest to harass Nicole during all her live reports.”
After all those flashbacks, “Reporter” gets us back on track. The flashbacks served more of a purpose and are quite funny as we see how Earl and Randy ruined Nicole’s career. Baker’s performance as Nicole is strong, and Randy’s attempts to become the opposite of Earl are a hoot; “Crazy Head” on the weather report is the funniest thing so far this season. Add to that Nicole’s biased news story about Randy and this is arguably the year’s best show.
Two Balls, Two Strikes: “Only one person in town is capable of making people afraid from beyond the grave, and that’s Richard Chubby. The town’s most powerful businessman was eccentric and unpredictable in life, not to mention mean. At his strip club, Chubby threatens Randy with a pistol. Luckily, it’s filled with vodka, providing a good laugh and fatal grounds for confusion. Thinking he’s freshening his drink, Chubby picks up the wrong gun and blows his own head off.”
“Balls” solves this problem: how to have a big star like Burt Reynolds play an important character but not be a regular. In his stead, we meet his son “Little Chubby”, played to Reynolds-esque perfection by Norm MacDonald. His Reynolds is terrific and produces the show’s biggest laughs. Add to that more shots of a scantily-clad Catalina – including in a bikini! - and this becomes another fine program.
GED: “Earl was let down when his credit card application got denied. He felt like a child and wanted to take more responsibility for his life. Catalina suggested that if Earl felt he screwed himself out of being an adult, he should put himself on the list.”
Karma definitely comes a-calling, as Earl becomes a substitute teacher and has to deal with a class full of kids similar to himself as a teen. As an educator, I can’t endorse the way the teachers get back at the students. As a DVD critic, I can say it’s pretty funny – and probably the fantasy of most folks in my field. The show’s not a classic, but it fares well.
Footnote: Earl must have the biggest music budget in TV history. It uses so many songs from big-name acts that it actually becomes a bit of a distraction. When I hear hits from the Stones, Queen and others, I can only wonder how a weekly TV series affords that stuff.
Get a Real Job: “Earl and Randy don’t usually set the alarm clock, but today is their first day at their new jobs, stocking appliances for Mr. Waadt (Chelcie Ross). Up until now, Earl has kept himself from becoming an adult, #273 on his list. Once he got his GED, it was time to start looking for a job. Earl learned that it’s easy to get a job, but hard to find one you want to keep.”
Given the series’ usual broad humor, the low-key nature of “Job” makes it somewhat unusual. Sure, the show has some wacky moments, but it manages a more serious side as Earl tries hard to make something of himself – and becomes dragged down by various sides. It has its cake and eats it too, as it mocks inspirational films but still makes us root for Earl. The casting of Sean Astin as one of Earl’s foes is great since Astin played Rudy, one of the most famous flicks in this genre. The episode is something different but becomes a success.
The Trial: “It’s Randy and Earl’s last night in the motel because they’re finally moving to a real apartment. Realizing that he cheated himself out of being an adult, Earl has put himself on his own list, and moving is the third step, after getting his G.E.D. and a real job.”
Ooh – a cliffhanger! I won’t reveal what cliff it hangs, but “Trial” does leave someone in a rather dodgy position. We finally find out what will happen to Joy after the theft that launched the season. It’s a good way to wrap up some stories and open up that cliffhanger, so it finishes Season Two well.